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Eddie Island Discusses His New Album Folkstar and American Idol | Interview

The former American Idol contestant discusses his journey, fame and his new album, ‘Folkstar.’

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As a break from the NYFF coverage, I’m excited to finally share an interview I did with former American Idol contestant, Eddie Island, that I did last month. Island — whose new album Folkstar is available to stream now — was so generous with his time and it turns out that we related on a number of things.

In this interview, Island discusses the American Idol experience, pivoting into the spotlight, some of the inspirations of his songs and more.

Thank you to Planetary Group for organizing this great interview and to Island for all of his time.


Coastal House Media: It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m very excited to talk to you. I have to ask one question about American Idol; can you give me one tidbit about something that we wouldn’t know unless we were on the show?

Eddie Island: I would say just the time that the show is [filmed] over; it was like a year-and-a-half, two years of a process from initially auditioning to flying out and filming the segments. The pre-tape was my favorite part. I loved the live show, glad I had the experience, [but] it was a lot more stressful, but I think there’s a lot that goes into it. I think the second piece of that is [that] you’re not really paid [as] I’ve never been paid by [American] Idol. I had stipends for food and stuff, but everything was like me going to thrift stores and wearing my clothes and figuring it out.

CHM: Wow, I would not have known that.

Island: You have to pivot, man. People think I have a tour bus and a million dollars and it’s like, “No.” It’s definitely a challenge and I think I’ve conquered it, but it’s a rare thing to kind of pivot from American Idol into an actual career, I think.

CHM: Basic question, but do you have any inspirations that inspired you to do music?

Island: Yeah, I really love Nathaniel Rateliff — he’s a folk artist. I saw him playing in his RV years ago. My friend gave me a vinyl of his song “Shroud” and hearing him sing and kind of just whaling on the guitar really inspired me. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” When I first saw that video, it kind of inspired me to go into the “acoustic” kind of singer-songwriter [path] like I wanted to be the folk man that could just walk up there with a guitar and play. Those are big inspirations.

I mean like a lot of artists, man. André 3000, Childish Gambino — I like a lot of rap music. It’s similar to folk in a way where it’s just like honest storytelling and [are] like the “voice of the people,” maybe they’re different people but that’s something that I love.

CHM: I was talking to one of Paul McCartney’s guitarist recently who recently put a single out and something he mentioned was how music promotion has changed. In the old days, there were 45” singles, now everything is about pre-saving songs and albums. For you, a younger artist, what’s music promotion like for a younger audience? What’s the social media factor?

Island: I mean, definitely man, I wish it was the seventies in a way, like, it’s kind of horrible, but it’s not bad. I think you can connect with people more, but people don’t understand what really goes into doing social media as an artist.

I actually work in social media as well, I’ve had like a 10+ year career [and] I work for like big brands, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s [and] Lyft. I still consult and work in that field because it’s allowed me to work remotely like be able to say “no” to opportunities in music and kind of just keep that protected.

But social [media]l is just very interesting. You don’t just post one TikTok video and go viral overnight; you have to tell your fans what you’re up to and deal with the algorithm and kind of a necessary evil that you either get with, or just kind of get destroyed by. And I’m learning that now with Folkstar and just working with the team and [how they’re] kind of encouraging me. The cool thing is, my fans and the people out there like my story and it’s okay for me to be me and I’m learning how to tailor that into who I really am as a person.

American Idol kind of had like a sliver [of that] and it was kind of scary when all happened because it was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to be this person all the time,” and it’s like, “No, there’s more to me,” and I think people like that other part as well.

CHM: Really quick, what’s the story with American Idol?

Island: [On American] Idol, just like the Mayor [Instagram handle], all that stuff was real. Like my friends [and I], we had a crazy night out. I played in a bunch of indie rock bands and they changed my Instagram to @nashvillemayor. I kept it [and] people started calling me Mr. Island. I moved to Nashville for a Paramore concert after college and never left. [I] moved like 10, 15 times my first year, like it was kind of nutty. I didn’t know anybody, I just did it and I was living in a living room with another person in the living room as well. And I built a little house out of PVC pipes and moving tarps and I sent my friend a picture and she was like, “You’re kind of like Eddie island there — it’s like your little world,” and I was like, “That’s the name?” And so I mentioned it to a few people and then it kind of grew and that was just what I kind of became. So I think the thing with [American] Idol is really awesome, but for me, there’s a very big difference between music fans and reality TV show fans, and there was a lot of crossover into the reality TV aspect, which I was happy that I had the promotion and that it happened, but I definitely didn’t enjoy meeting those people — not in a negative way — but they’re just like, “Oh, are you dating anyone? What’s your name again? I don’t care, are you famous? Here’s a picture” and it’s like, “Do you even know what I do? Do you like music?” And where I’m at now is that people come up and they’re like, “Oh, I play guitar” or “I like your song,” it’s so life-giving and I love it. I had to kind of throw the brakes on and pivot because I don’t want to be Snooki.

CHM: Well, I play guitar and I like your music [laughs]. But I do want to ask you about interactions with fans because you have a big following. Have you had any crazy fan interactions through social media?

Island: I mean, it was hard for me to kind of grasp. I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s like to do something like this unless you’ve done it. I was going to free artist counseling in Nashville and the guy was like, “The most traumatic way to get into music industry is [to] do something like American idol — it’s just overnight exposure.” Everyone I’ve ever met in my life [has] tried to DM me or reach out which is cool, but it’s very overwhelming. I was at a really cool Chinese restaurant — I think it [was] Lucky Bamboo — [and there was a bunch of indie rock shows there. It was so cool space prom but we rented out the back and we had [American Idol] on the screen and I went to the bathroom and came back and went from 2,000 to 30,000 followers and my phone was like shaking and exploded, basically, and there were like hundreds of thousands of DMs that I didn’t even receive that. Sometimes I still get [them] years later, like my phone will just randomly send them to me. I think the one thing people don’t understand is I cannot physically see all the messages they’re sending me. I don’t know if I followed you back or didn’t follow you or whatever and like me following you doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s just [that] it becomes a whole different thing than what people are used to with social media, it’s more of a business.

I have to protect myself and all relationships — now I have to see if there are motives. It was a hard transition just because everyone was talking to me and being nice, but then a lot of them always had another motive and I had to kind of go through a few relationships, not even romantically, but just with people and kind of learn like, “Okay, I have to look for X, Y and Z and trust people’s actions, not their words,” and kind of reframe the way that I live as a person to be able to handle it. And I think I’ve stayed the same, which is awesome, but it’s definitely an extremely traumatic, overwhelming experience. It doesn’t have to be like bad trauma, but it’s pretty nuts.

In terms of fan interactions, I had a girl wreck her car once and she took a picture of me and didn’t care [that] the car was totaled — it was crazy. I’ve had people follow me home and take pictures of me at restaurants and, like, it’s okay, it’s part of it, but it’s like full-blown “Biebermania.” I went to the airport to fly out for the live show and like every 10 seconds, someone started screaming and recognized me and started to take a picture of me, which was fine but it was unsafe — I had to like run away. And then I remember going into the bathroom and this guy at the urinal looks over and he is like, “Whoa, it’s you,” and I’m just like, “I can’t get away from this.”

But I think it’s in a good place now. The music’s speaking louder than television, but the television is there and I’m thankful that I did it and I learned a lot and kind of grew — it’s kind of like “artist boot camp” overnight. I’m ready for anything now

CHM: I’m glad to hear that you are able to navigate relationships with people’s motives and whatnot. That’s important in other avenues of life, too, like school.

Island: Exactly. That’s how I made it was going to a private school growing up and then going to a college and doing music there and no one cares and then I played a talent show and everyone’s my friend overnight. And that type of like “campus celebrity” is like the only way that kind of prepped me for like worldwide [stardom].

CHM: What’s the most unique thing that you’ve autographed?

Island: I [sign] a lot of shirts. Really, the most unique things I sign [are] contracts. I’d say it’s scary, like, there’s just like tons of pages. Luckily, I’m off all the [American] Idol contracts, which is kind of nuts. But nothing too crazy yet. I’ve signed people before. [But] I have merch, so I’ll like give them the merch and maybe that’s kind of [how] we’ve avoided weird signings.

CHM: You know, everybody does music for different reasons. Some people are just good at it and just play it. Other people are using it to express themselves or to tell a story. I think you had used the word “storyteller” earlier, but why do you write music?

Folkstar‘s cover art by Brian McCray.

Island: I write songs because nobody listened in my life. I kind of had to process all these things going on and I was just kind of like this early bloomer, at least emotionally, emotionally less [in] other areas. But I think we’ve leveled out as an adult man. I think music was different for me. My family isn’t really musical, they’re not like unmusical, but like I really would just listen to the oldies in the backseat of the car and sing along with them.

Music kind of like found me throughout my life. My first exposure to it besides like listening to like Elvis’ Christmas [Album] or something with my family was [when] my friend gave me a mix CD. I think it had Weezer, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers and stuff like that. My first album was Hot Fuss and once I bought that, I was like, “What is this whole world of music?” and I got my little LimeWire rolling with my MP3 player and I kind of discovered this whole world of other people like me that felt a lot and then were like creative. And I didn’t even know what HSP, or, highly sensitive people was. Even the concept of being an artist was foreign to me growing up in the suburbs of D.C.; that wasn’t a career option. All we had was Guitar Center.

And then I was late to a meeting with a potential manager in Nashville and he said, “Oh, it’s okay. Artists are always late,” and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m an artist.” I didn’t even know what that was.

CHM: I do want to get into a couple of specific songs. The first one I’m just curious about is the story behind “Worship Leader” as someone with plenty of experiences — good and bad — in the church.

Island: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, man — it needed to be said, and like, I’m not aiming to do anything. I’m just talking about my life and people really get it and it’s kind of going crazy.

So I went to Cedarville [University], which is a super Baptist school — I almost got kicked out for having a beer sampler the size of a little baby cup, it’s okay — but it was definitely a unique experience. Going there really formulated a lot of my writing during this album; during that time and not have anything else to do except for going to Walmart. [When] it’s snowing all the time, we [would] just sit and listen to the records in the dorm room and write sad songs.


But I wrote “Worship Leader” years later, I think it’s one of the more recent ones, maybe 2020 or 2021, but the concept kind of came from [when] I was in Nashville. I was in Franklin at this really cool coffee shop called Honest Coffee. I used to go there all the time and I knew the owner and basically, this guy ran up to me and he was like, “Oh my gosh, man, how have you been?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like the big worship leader from my college who was actively working at this megachurch in Texas,” it was so crazy. It was like we had this thing called HeartSong and it was the worship team and you basically got your whole tuition paid for, and you got like a salary to tour and do music at my school. And we had chapel every day and it was crazy and they would play huge worship concerts every day at my school.

So this guy was on the brochures, everyone wanted to be him. And I was like, “Whoa,” [because] he was like fan-ing out over me. We ended up hanging out and like kicking it at my apartment and like one wine glass in or something he was just like, “I wish I was you,” and I was like, “What?” It was just like so nuts and I was talking to him and he was like, “No, dude, like everyone treated you bad and you have stuff to write about and you have all this substance, but everything’s been so good for me — I have nothing to pull from,” and like, “Your writing’s so unbelievable and you’re so gifted.”

And I was like, “Wow, this is really crazy that someone in that world [is] saying that I’m good,” because I felt like I was trash. And I was kind of taught that I was worthless growing up in that whole Christian world. I had something to offer and I was like, “Man, maybe I’m the real worship leader,” and that’s kind of what the song was about.

We ended up cutting a line at the end, but I wrote, “He said ‘I wish I was you,’ I always wished I was him.”

CHM: I went to a Baptist school down in Virginia for my freshman year before transferring and I understand because everybody wanted to be on the worship team. They’re playing in an arena full of 10,000 kids every day. And you mentioned like the Walmart thing, and that made me laugh because that was the big thing at my school; we’d walk over to the big Walmart across the street.

Island: I get it! Everyone always says, “You get it,” [but] it’s like, no, I get it and I have this ability to say these things [not] because I’m trying to say anything, I’m just talking to God really, or like myself to like let this out when I write music.

CHM: Where do you buy your sunglasses? They’re so cool.

Island: Thank you, man — these are prescription. I actually used to work at Warby Parker in the office, doing social media. I love boring; like put me in the boring world because I can make it lit. So I was working there and I bought kind of crazy glasses, I can almost cheer myself up or like do something different — and also blue light blocker — and so I was like, “Man, it’s only like $5 more to make them yellow,” it was some promo I’m like, “I’m gonna just get yellow glasses.” And so I started wearing those around then I would wear them out of the office on lunch breaks and people would react to them — they would either love it or hate it — and I’d kind of know if they were cool or not and it was like this like Truman Show-style, like rebelling against the world feeling that I had, I’m gonna just wear these glasses around because I’m tired of living my life caring what people think.

Really before all of that, when I played my high school talent show, I was so nervous and I wore sunglasses because I couldn’t sing without my eyes being closed. And I started wearing glasses because of Buddy Holly [but people also mentioned] Elton John; I never thought about Elton John once until everyone said I looked like him or whatever, I don’t know.

CHM: Funny you brought up Elton John because you did a cover of “Bennie and the Jets” and nailed that on American Idol.

Island: I think I was a little off because they put me on this lift that Joe Jonas used and I ran the rehearsal and they had no TV screens on the floor — they didn’t have some weird B-roll cut up, [it looked like] I was crying because I was cleaning my glasses, it was just insane. So when the live show happened, it was like, Okay, Ryan Seacrest is here; there’s TVs on the floor; there’s a lift now I’m going down. And when I did the rehearsal, Franklin was Beyonce’s vocal coach, he was my vocal coach, [and] he cried. And he was like, “You’re gonna win the show,” because it was just [a] blowout performance. I’m happy it happened the way it did. I still did good, but it wasn’t like “in the pocket, full sauce,” which I usually do when I play for real.

Thank you though, man. I mean, we ran with it, Elton tweeted to everybody else — he didn’t really support me, I don’t know why, but we blessed it. I still love it. I sang “Bennie and the Jets” at the show on Saturday in Ohio.

CHM: You infuse folk music into your music and I also noticed a brass section in a couple of your songs. I love both of these but I’m curious why you wanted to infuse them into your music.

Island: People don’t understand [that] I have had to put blood, sweat and tears and pay out of pocket for things and like put that extra 10% on my entire career every single time — and the horns are evidence of that. When we were tracking, I was like, “I really want horns on my album,” [but] there was no budget or whatever. So I ended up hiring a kid on Fiverr from Ukraine who didn’t speak English — I translated everything — and I actually wrote the entire album [out] and I also wrote the horns and I recorded myself going like [imitates horn noises] on my phone, I sent that to him and then they played that. And then my friend Ian tuned it and we put that on the record for a demo and they liked it so much that they ended up having the horns recorded on Abbey Road.

CHM: So of all the songs you have on the album, what’s the one that you’re most excited for people to hear?

Island: Man, it’s a tough one because I’ve learned with this album [that] what I like isn’t always what people like. And I do like the whole album a lot, but I’ve learned my taste. Getting out of the way of myself and serving the audience has been a really big lesson, but not changing what I like.

I think for me, “Subway” was the most licensed, which was a shocker, but I’m excited to just see which song is the one. And I know each song is so deep and unique and catchy and amazing. Honestly, I think each one of them is like a time bomb [ready] to explode, I just don’t know which one it’s going to be.

I really like “1974,” that song is one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever written. It’s a kind of a stream of consciousness about a time I lived with a professional BMX writer in Nashville — Corey Martinez

CHM: When playing live, do you prefer the solo act kind of thing, like an Ed Sheeran performance with just a guitar, or do you prefer to have a band there?

Island: You know, man, I like playing with a band, especially when it’s tight [but] I do some songs by myself. Where we’re at now with my music here [on Folkstar] — I’m also in a crazy rock and roll band called Kid Cherry and the Graduates, which is about to be insane. It’s like “modern Nirvana,” [and] people say that, but it actually is. But I think like for me, we have Ezra, who’s like my band leader [and] guitar player, like awesome “ride or die,” he toured with me and John, our sound guy in Ohio at the recent show. I think that was one of the [most] fun formats because I’m able to put the guitar down, sing songs, not have to learn everything and do everything and just focus on the crowd and the performance and then pick up the guitar, have some solo songs and have some songs I’m playing when we’re both playing. I think Travis, my keys player, is going to come along with us for some of the future dates.

That’s my favorite format because it’s easier to tour. There are less people, [so]I can get booked more because they don’t have to have as big of a budget. I honestly really excel in that kind of intimate environment.

CHM: When you do play on a smaller scale — even if it’s just in the section with the songs you play by yourself — are you just playing an acoustic version of the song? Because you have songs seem to have a layered arrangement there, right? So are you stripping those songs down or just playing songs that are meant to be played acoustic?

Island: Yeah, we did every kind of [arrangement], we had like an hour over an hour set list [and] I did “Mantra Chameleon,” which is another song I love, but we either make it into acoustic, or, to be honest, [and] a lot of the songs on Folkstar I would just play by myself.

I’m not changing the record really at all, it’s the same kind of experience, but we do kind of flesh it out and like [on] “Bennie and the Jets,” Ezra role play some of the other parts and the lead lines and things like that. But I think I kind of reimagine the songs in the way that I would just play them anyway and so it all kind of becomes cohesive.

CHM: Do you have any tour dates set? Perhaps on the east coast?

Island: I mean, it’s interesting. It’s one of those Catch-22s where it’s like, I could go on tour with a huge artist right now and kill it. But I’m in this in-between world with American Idol. The big thing I’m excited about is we are going to play this showcase for like the College Bookers Association [National Association for Campus Activities] for schools, so I think that will unlock a bunch of dates. And then I think from there, all the other opportunities that I have that are kind of like, “Yeah, let me know,” will start [to] kind of [become] solidified. But [we’ll] definitely [play] in the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania region for sure.


Folkstar is available to stream on digital platforms now.

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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Charlie Michael Baker: Journey of Autism, Social Media and Working with Kylie Jenner (EXCLUSIVE)

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Charlie Michael Baker and Kylie Jenner

At just 17, Charlie Michael Baker is giving his all to change the world. Baker is a renowned author, entrepreneur, actor, and journalist and he is on a mission to help millions of people suffering from autism. Charlie Michael Baker previously told Costal House Media he raised over £400,000 to help people with autism. He faced many challenges since childhood but his determination and perseverance were the key to his success.

Baker is a Social Media sensation with over 1.2M followers on Instagram. Charlie Michael Baker is one of the many influencers being bullied on social media every day. He receives 300-500 rape and death threats daily!

Charlie Michael Baker

Charlie Michael Baker

We had the honor to connect with Charlie Michael Baker. You can read our conversation below.

Nikita Pahwa: Congratulations on launching your new book! What can you tell us about it?

Charlie Michael Baker: So my new book is about social media, specifically, the dangers of social media. All young kids now want to grow up and be ‘famous’ but don’t know the bad side of it all. I was one of those kids, I’d always wanted to be famous, it’s something I’d always dreamed of!

NP: How do you deal with death and rape threats?

CMB: The short answer is, I don’t, really. I stopped reading my DMs a few months back because of it all. I don’t deal with negativity and there’s too many trolls to block each and every one, so they all just get ignored.

Charlie Michael Baker Social Media and I

Charlie Michael Baker Social Media and I (Photo: @kaybeephotography2 on Instagram)

NP: What advice would you give to people in similar situations?

CMB: I’d say don’t listen to them, do what I do and just don’t read them. It’s better that way. What you don’t see can’t hurt you!

NP: If you could say one thing to people sending you threats, what would it be?

CMB: Without ruining my career *lol* I’d say just to be a bit kinder. If there’s something going on in your life that you’re not very happy with, ask someone for help. Speak to someone you trust rather than swaying to a life of being a keyboard warrior. It’s not nice!

NP: Is your new book related to Charlie Baker: Autism and Me?

CMB: It is! It will be written in the same – ish way BUT Charlie Michael Baker Social Media And I will be exclusively E – book sold on my website charliembaker.net.

NP: Are you currently working on a new venture with Kylie Jenner?

CMB: I am! We’re working with the same brand – glow beverages. We’re working alongside an NBA star too whose name I cannot remember for the life of me – oops lol.

Kylie Jenner and Charlie Michael Baker

Kylie Jenner and Charlie Michael Baker

NP: Are you planning to collaborate with more celebrities in the future?

CMB: I love working with celebrities. Mostly just to see what they’re like to be honest. Kylie is so nice though honestly I keep messaging her life updates!

NP: Last question, is it true that you’re working on the Charlie Baker: Autism and Me movie? Are we going to see it on the big screen?

CMB: Yes, it is! I’m filming something very very special this year with Creation Media 22 which should appear on Netflix and Prime Video which is so exciting! It will be my first time in front of an actual TV camera so it’s a bit different to daily vlogs!

You can get your Charlie Michael Baker Social Media And I E-copy on March, 1 for £0.01 (yes, a penny!). Get your Charlie Baker: Autism and Me copy on Amazon.

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Interviews

INTERVIEW | ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ Stars Brandon Soo Hoo and Leah Lewis Discuss Representation, Positivity, and the Power of Belief

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Tiger's Apprentice
Tiger's Apprentice (Paramount+)

Paramount’s latest animated flick ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ has finally been released and garnered positive response from everywhere. Adapted from Laurence Yep’s beloved children’s book series, ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ brings to life the thrilling journey of Chinese American teen Tom Lee (portrayed by Brandon Soo Hoo). He is suddenly thrust into a realm he once believed existed only in bedtime tales. After a tragedy strikes his family, the young man discovers his identity as a Guardian. Subsequently, he is mentored by the mystical Tiger Hu (played by Henry Golding) to confront the evil Loo (portrayed by Michelle Yeoh). In between all this chaos, he develops a special friendship with a girl named Rav (played by Leah Lewis) who helps him in defeating the villain and saving the world.

It is one of those films that you can enjoy with your family. It is tender, beautifully crafted, and encourages you to think about how traditions play a crucial role in everyone’s lives. In this exclusive interview, Brandon Soo Hoo and Leah Lewis share their perspectives on the film’s themes, the significance of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in media, and the impact of portraying multi-dimensional characters. The actors delve into the importance of maintaining positivity in the face of adversity, believing in oneself, and breaking stereotypes in the entertainment industry. From challenging outdated narratives to normalizing cultural heritage, Brandon and Leah express their excitement for viewers to experience the film’s adventurous and tender journey of self-discovery.

Tiger's Apprentice

A still from ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ (Paramount+)

Aayush Sharma: ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is a mixture of so many great things love, care, culture, and family. But for you guys, what was the one thing that made you relate to this story and made you proud? And why do you think that particular thing is so important for people to see?

Brandon Soo Hoo: One of the favorite things that I related with my character was Tom has uncanny ability to maintain a positive outlook when things get really tough. And so, you know, he’ll drop in a humorous little quip here and there in the face of adversity. I think that’s such a powerful way to confront anything challenging because life isn’t that serious. And, if you really lean into the negative, and if you really lean into the dark side, I feel like it can really corrupt and taint you. I believe maintaining that light and positivity around you is like the ultimate protection that you have, from the dark stuff when life kind of gets you down. Because if you let life get too dark, then you won’t let enough of your inner light kind of radiate outwards and do what it needs to do. So, you know, hold on to your light, hold on to the positivity. I feel like it’s contagious. It’s very, very healing.

Leah Lewis: I think, for me, one of my favorite things about this film that I would take away, is really learning how to believe in yourself. And I know that’s such a simple statement, but it’s a big loaded one for me. I really feel like when it comes down, to believing in yourself, it’s the things that you care about, the people you care about, where you came from, where you’re going. You see this character, Tom, struggle with believing in himself in any aspect. I think that’s really important too. And I think, when you can believe in yourself too and present yourself, honestly, and vulnerably, that’s also when you find other people who are right for you in your life. You see Tom eventually learns how to be himself, and because of it, he fits into this Zodiac and kind of ends up finding a community that he never would have expected. So, I think that aspect is important for me.

AS: So, you know, besides showing so many great things, this is also an Asian story. The characters, the cast, the makers, and most of the people involved in this project, have an Asian background. But you know when we see the entertainment industry, we still see a lot of talented Asian actors stuck in a kind of stereotype. And they are cast in one kind of role. For you guys, how does Asian representation in movies intersect with a broader discussion about diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry?

BS: I mean, it’s 2024, we’re past the era of having Asian people playing just submissive roles or playing like the tech support. I think that right now is like a renaissance for Asian entertainers and Asian artists to showcase that we are multi-dimensional people, that we can be the hero, we can be the cool guy. It’s all that stuff is like, we’re really seeing Asians being at the forefront of stories like that. And it’s so important because growing up, if you don’t see all of those things represented in media, it’s kind of hard to feel like, you can see that in yourself. So, it’s almost like this conditioning that we received from a really young age. So right now, we’re trying to reverse engineer all of that by showing you can be the hero of your own story, you know, you can save the day. And you could be more than just like whatever aesthetic or face that people want to put on you. You can kind of step out of those boundaries and as a human being, you can do whatever the heck you want. So, I think that it’s so important for us to be able to share with you all.

Brandon Soo Hoo (@brandonsoohoo/Instagram)

LL: I agree, I think, we’re living in a day and age where we’re moving towards a place where representation isn’t such a flashy, flashy thing. It’s a necessary and needed thing that should already be kind of embedded into our society. So, it’s a huge win for the AAPI community any time there’s an API lead or like, especially something like this film where it’s completely eccentric. But I also think the more and more we start to see those projects, like, it’s important to be able to normalize the difference in all these characters. You know, when I also look at, the list of like, Caucasian actors, I can think of an actor for every kind of character. I’m like, oh, yeah, I know, this actor played that, and this and that. But you know, for Asian, that’s been a long time coming, where it’s like, oh, it’s only Michelle Yeoh, who plays that or like, you know, we have the designated person who plays the geek or the kind of hero or like the dark character. And what’s so cool about this film, too, is like, Tom is just, he’s a cool, regular guy who hails from Chinese American culture. This film shows heritage and culture in a way where it’s so normalized, and just so kind of nuanced. I feel like that sense of representation is so cool for the people at home who are like, hey, casually, I like this guy, or I know those kinds of traditions, and I love the way he builds in this theme because I feel that way. I don’t know, I just, I also wish I had something like this growing up too. But like, now is the best time to see people that look like you, speak like you, or act like you on screen. It really recovers that belief in yourself that things are possible for you. Like we all watch TV. We all care about these characters to feel seen and feel like you know, you have a voice out there somewhere. There’s nothing better than that feeling. So, I hope that this film does that for a lot of people to me.

AS: You guys are working with such huge stars. Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Liu, Henry Golding, and more. What was your reaction when you heard these guys will be in the movie?

BS: Man, I mean, the reaction was and still is just like, almost like a surreal disbelief. I was like, these are people that I watched growing up when I was little, I was like, dang, these are some huge Asian names. They are the biggest names in our community. So yeah, I told my parents immediately about, like, who’s going to be in the project, and we all just like giggled about it together. So, I think just immense pride. It’s such a celebration, and it’s such a win, not just for me and my career, but it’s such a celebration for the Asian community. It’s like, man, look at all of us, like, together just being badass Zodiac warriors.

LL: I felt the same way. I mean, honestly, I tend to do this thing to where if someone tells me like this person is who you’re working with. I’m just like, wait, what? And I’m still like that, you know, like when we were able to even see Sandra Oh, at the premiere of like, let’s go, oh, my God, like, that’s really freakin’ cool. It’s also just like, I think it’s a really proud moment to finally see all different generations of AAPI actors coming together on one screen and to be able to see that there is space for more than just one or two. This whole cast is like a chock filled with it. And everyone is so talented, it’s been an honor. I’m really proud to be a part of it.

Leah Lewis and Sandra Oh

Leah Lewis and Sandra Oh (@leahmlewis/Instagram)

AS: The film has finally been released and it has opened to great reviews. If anyone hasn’t seen the movie, what’s your advice to them? And why should they watch ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’?

BS: What do you what are you waiting for? Get in there. Watch this movie. It’s special, it’s beautiful. There’s something in there for everybody. And yeah, I think you’re really missing out on something that’s, that’s really beautiful and important. So go check it out. I hope they get to watch it with your family because there are a lot of beautiful lessons in there to share. So, go go check it out. You have to.

LL: It’s like, it’s a cool, like, genuinely cool. It has Steelo to it. Adventurous, tender film about finding yourself and I know we all want to do that. So, you should totally watch it and I hope you find a bit of yourself in this cool tender film.

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is currently streaming on Paramount+.

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Interviews

INTERVIEW | Sarayu Blue Dives Deep into ‘EXPATS’ Journey with Cultural Authenticity and Emotional Depth

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Sarayu Blue stars as Hilary Starr in Lulu Wang's 'EXPATS' (@sarayublue/Instagram)

After taking the world by storm with ‘The Farewell,’ director Lulu Wang is back and this time, she has taken her storytelling prowess to the small screen. Her series, ‘EXPATS,’ is a story mainly about three women trying to overcome guilt and grief in the most authentic way possible. The very first frame of the series encourages viewers to take a remarkable journey into the lives of characters that are connected in one way or the other. Nicole Kidman portrays Margaret in the series while Ji-young Yoo plays Mercy. Both stars have given spectacular performances in the six-part series, but one actor who has managed to nab all the attention is none other than Sarayu Blue, who plays the role of Hilary.

At first, Hilary seems to be a no-nonsense woman who has moved to Hong Kong to make strides in her professional life. She does brilliantly professionally, but her personal life is in a bit of turmoil. Her marriage is not going well, her best friend seems to have lost almost everything, and she is overburdened with the pressure of becoming a mother. Wang knows how to extract a powerful performance from an actor and Sarayu is no different. Sarayu’s portrayal of the character is truly magnificent, capturing Hilary’s frustration and compassion with authenticity on screen. I sat down (virtually) with Sarayu Blue and discussed several aspects of her character in the Prime Video series. The actress opened up about how she learned Punjabi to make her character more authentic and also, how South Asian parents show love most uniquely.

Sarayu Blue in a still from ‘EXPATS’ (Prime Video)

Aayush Sharma: Congratulations on the series. It’s getting such beautiful reactions. Your character is written so beautifully, but Lulu Wang made some alterations to your character’s journey in the series, particularly regarding her approach to motherhood. So, how, as an actor, approached the shift in your character’s arc? And what kind of discussions have you had with Wong regarding these changes?

Sarayu Blue: Actually, the changes had already happened before I came. Because in the book, Hillary is not written South Asian. And so that was one of the changes. And so, when I auditioned, it was already South Asian, of course. I think when I got on board, I was able to read all the scripts, and I just devoured them. I mean, in one sitting, it was like, you know, I couldn’t get enough. It was such an exciting experience to see this South Asian woman who’s so human, she’s so layered and complicated, and messy, and real, and beautiful, and funny and vulnerable, and raw and hurting. And so, then it just became the biggest gift I could ever imagine.

AS: One of the best things about your character was her backstory, and showing the kind of Sikh family she was born into. But what was that one thing that you wanted viewers to see in your character to understand why Hillary sees the world in the way she does? Also, how challenging was it for you to learn the Punjabi language to make your character sound more authentic?

SB: I’m so thankful to our team and our wonderful consultant, Inder, who was like the most patient and kind human. I kept reciting it repeatedly, because somebody who speaks Telugu, and I’ve tried to teach people Telugu, pronunciation is everything. It’s everything, along with the accent, and every emphasis that matters so much. So, I was so thankful for that support. Also, Sudha (Brinder) speaks Punjabi, so I had Masters constantly working with me, and I was so thankful. Meanwhile, I think as far as the view that Hillary has, or what was important to me, it was important to see the hurt for both Brinder and Hilary. You know, what I love about the dynamic you see in Episode Four is you really see that they’re both hurting, and there’s aggression because that’s how we speak to each other. (laughs) I mean, that part is so universal, because my mother and I have a very contentious love. But, you know, that hurt underneath, and the vulnerability underneath is why it feels so real. And that representation of that specific dynamic was very important to me.

AS: Yeah, I mean, I can understand as an Indian, I know the kind of relationship that we share with our parents. I mean, they would just bash us, and then say that’s how we show our love for you. That’s, that’s our love. (laughs)

SB: I said to my dad, my dad was calling. I was FaceTiming with him, and he said, ‘So what are you doing? Are you doing anything interesting?’ I said, ‘I’m just doing a lot of press for this show. Remember that show? I did EXPATS? And he said, ‘I remember that.’ He added, ‘So nothing. You’re not doing anything.’ (laughs) But I get it.

Sarayu Blue with Sudha Bhuchar and Jennifer Beveridge (@sarayublue/Instagram)

AS: Your Punjabi was so amazing in that scene because I’m a Punjabi and when I was hearing that conversation, I had to pause the episode and go to the internet to see if you had any Punjabi roots because your accent was so authentic.

SB: Let me tell you how much that means to me because it’s the most important thing for me. Because Telugu is not easy to speak. It’s not, and I was raised by a Telugu professor and a Telugu short story writer. Also, I’ve tried to teach Telugu to somebody, and if it doesn’t sound right, it won’t feel good. That’s why it’s all I wanted to show. You must speak the language with the right pronunciation. That’s very important.

AS: Now that EXPATS has premiered three episodes on Prime Video and receiving so much love. But for those who haven’t started the series, what would like to tell them and why they should be watching this show?

SB: I am so honored to be in this show. I really am. I get goosebumps even talking to you right now, seeing you smile, and having this conversation. I want people to watch the show for everyone. There’s so much good talent in this show. You know, Sudha who plays Brinder is extraordinary. Kavi Raz, who plays my dad in Episode Six, is brilliant. You know, all these actors, Ruby Ruiz, Ji-young Yoo, Brian Tee, there’s so much brilliance that I hope people just watch and realize how many actors of color are getting to do amazing work. It feels like a dream. But, of course, there’s so much to see in this show, you know.

Cast of ‘Expats’ with director Lulu Wang at the premiere. (Getty Images)

The first three episode of ‘EXPATS’ are currently streaming exclusively on Prime Video.

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